The original Mirrors Edge was a slow burning classic and at the time there wasn't anything else like it on the market. It appeared on console in 2007 and now nearly ten years later we have a reboot of sorts which looks at the origins of Faith, the lead character from the first game. We are back in the city of glass and for the most part, it looks the same but with substantially better visuals and a far bigger play area. The first game could be polished off in less than seven hours and that seemed just about perfect. Catalyst is a far bigger game as you might expect but is that extra size filled with awesome nuggets of gameplay or just a map full of tat? Let us have a look.
If you bang the word 'Parkour' into Google or do a search on YouTube you will soon be watching brave souls (apparently made from rubber) showing off some truly impressive acrobatic abilities. The word parkour derives from 'parcours du combattant', the classic obstacle course method of military training. It's a fascinating activity (culture even) and with an equally interesting history: if you have time I suggest having a read or watching some of the awesome documentaries on the net.
If the original Mirrors Edge did nothing else it certainly captured the feeling of movement and momentum. While a game representation of Parkour will never give you anywhere near the same thrills that doesn't mean it can't be fun. I'm glad to see the same feeling of weight and speed has been carried forward to this new game: with a few new tricks as you might expect. Faith can now swing around corners, use an MGrope (really?) and a few other new moves. This is unlocked in the progression tree which is split between gear, combat and movement. The problem is that it doesn't feel well conceived at all: a little more damage here, an extra health bar there. You also need to unlock a few of the skills from the previous game, something I don't mind so much as they are easy to acquire and this will help new players get to grips with the games core mechanics. The movement system while similar is considerably more refined than the first game with some very nice touches: if this aspect of the game is why you enjoyed the original then you will not be left wanting.
When I consider the open world of Mirrors Edge Catalyst (MEC) I can't help think of Jeff Goldblum's line in Jurrasic Park "you were too busy wondering if you could you never stopped to think if you should". Open world games have become very popular in recent years and titles like the Witcher 3 show that they can be wildly successful: but that doesn't mean every game should be a sprawling map that lets you run in any direction. There is a central campaign to push forward but also a litany of 'take this here' quests which are little more than that. I wouldn't mind these so much if they were mixed into a selection of other more meaty activities: alas they are not.
For me, part of what made Mirrors Edge so satisfying to play was it created a path or channel in front of you and which gave you an unrelenting feeling of direction. When the development team sat down to start forming ideas for MEC I can see how they thought the next game should be open world, but them knowing their own product should have given them an insight into why this just does not work. I would also have loved to see Faith utilising some sort of stealth gameplay, sneaking around and using her speed to remain ahead of the enemy. Only when being discovered would you then embark one the heart-pounding chases of the first game.
The world itself also feels utterly devoid of life which might sound like a strange (and unfair) thing to say about a game that is predominantly about running on rooftops. However, I would have liked to see more people or at the very least more activity. You do see the odd worker or socialite (presumably wandered up from a party in the office below) but they just stand there static and unchanging. When you pass the same NPC for the hundredth time in exactly the same spot they really do betray their purpose and make the whole game feel like a set of props rather than a living breathing world. Additionally, the cars that uniformly creep around the streets below drive so perfectly it's like watching a convention of light cycles from Tron doing the Congo but all capped at 20mph.
So if Dice had come knocking on my door a few years ago and said 'Genophix, we're making this awesome new game based on the Mirrors Edge IP: can you help us with some ideas?' This is what I would have said. First of all either scrap the progression unlocks or make them have far more impact on the gameplay. Many of skills from the first game have been included in the unlock tree, some have been pre-unlocked and the others need you to purchase them with experience. It's almost like they couldn't think up any new moves so added them to fill out the new skill tree.
Consider an open world setting but only if you are prepared to add activities that are fun and rewarding. If you are just going to add a metric shit tonne of pointless fluff then don't bother. Sack your current writers and take some risks with the plot, the current cookie cutter cliche's are tired, overused tripe we've seen a thousand times before. To be fair the voice actor for Faith did ok with what she had but the rest is mediocre at best.
The whole idea behind Mirrors Edge is that this dystopian world has been fashioned from fear and people living in a world of false happiness. With this in mind, I would have loved to see some areas of the city that exists outside the clean and bright controlled areas. Like in Demolition Man when they descend below the surface of the forced paradise things look dirty and gritty. This contrast would have been an excellent way to break the game up a little and push the idea that there are still humans outside the system.
Faith needs to feel fast, light and strong: so does the combat. What is in the game right now is ok but painfully underdeveloped. Would it have killed Dice to instead of using a generic progression tree actually developing a suite of new combat moves to enjoy. Kicking guns out of K-SEC guards hands, sweeping their legs, unleashing lightning fast Jason Bourn esk moves that make people feel god-like. Parkour and martial arts overlap in more ways than one so seeing Faith using these skills would have made the forced combat scenes far more enjoyable. As it stands most combat confrontations involve repeating strafe and kick. In short, if you're going to include something then make a proper job of it.
I can't publish this review without talking about the price of the game itself, currently sitting at £49.99 on Origins. There has been a worrying trend in recent years where gamers are increasingly having these ridiculous prices thrown at them: some reaching hundreds of pounds for collectors editions. Companies like Ubisoft and EA have been cultivating this rise in prices on their own digital shops and it seems someone somewhere is forking out these ludicrous prices. Guys please don't preorder these games and certainly don't pay more than £40, wait for myself and others review sites to tell you if the game is worth your hard-earned money.
Is it PC
Using the new Frostbite engine 3 MEC looks superb for the most part, with excellent lighting and a wonderful feeling of scale. In the first game and now here I love the overall look of the City of Glass and there are some truly amazing vistas to be enjoyed. The game is well optimised as you might expect and on my 980GTX I am more than happy with the framerate. The game only allows a player to have one save which just screams of console culture: if I wish to start a new game I must wipe all my previous progress which I think is just bobbins.
The sound in the game is pretty much excellent throughout with lots of attention to detail. Faith's footsteps sound noticeably different depending on what surface she is running, sound pallets also consider muffled interiors as well as open rooftops and even Faiths breathing alternates depending on how much she had been running. Music has been given less attention and while follows the same theme as the first seems to have far less emotional panache: but it's good and does the job.
Mirrors Edge Catalyst is a good game and in its own right has plenty going for it. To spite being hard on it, there are some exhilarating moments where Faith is literally running for her life. However as a gamer, I can't help see so many areas of the title that could have been pushed beyond good. Dice have played it safe at almost every turn and that disappoints me. When I first saw that we were getting another Mirrors Edge game there were many things I was hoping for and almost none of them have been realised in Catalyst.
With that said the core to Mirrors Edge has always been free running and that aspect is still very satisfying. If you did play and enjoy the first game there is no reason why you shouldn't enjoy this reboot, just don't expect any major changes to the formula other than the largely wasted open world aspect and piffy skill tree. It might sound strange but if I had to choose a Mirrors Edge game to play through again it would be the first. I hope MEC does well enough for Dice to consider another game based on this IP and maybe then address some of the issues I have highlighted in my review.
I hope you have enjoyed this review of Mirrors Edge Catalyst on PC, please check out my other reviews, articles and check back for my blog which usually appears every two weeks. I also have a shooting gallery full of captures from my gaming adventures which you can also find on this site. You can also follow me @riggedforepic and on Youtube under the same name.